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The country needs sanitation vigilantes

Fines for public urination could fatten local administrative bodies, and actually allow them to create an army of sanitary inspectors. Imagine the number of jobs that could be created

columns Updated: Jun 04, 2017 23:41 IST
R Sukumar
Sure, when it comes to toilets, India doesn’t have enough, but I am not convinced that has anything to do with it. I’ve seen enough men peeing right next to fully functional (and reasonably clean) public conveniences. When confronted, most of them try to brazen it out. Most aren’t embarrassed.
Sure, when it comes to toilets, India doesn’t have enough, but I am not convinced that has anything to do with it. I’ve seen enough men peeing right next to fully functional (and reasonably clean) public conveniences. When confronted, most of them try to brazen it out. Most aren’t embarrassed.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

A country on the move needs a slogan, so may I humbly suggest one: because a man’s got to go when a man’s got to go. That’s the perfect slogan for a country where most men think it’s OK to pee anywhere. I say men because women don’t. One of the earliest lessons Indian women learn is to hold on.

This is one area where I’d recommend, support, and endorse a micro-managing surveillance state. I find it strange that a government that isn’t concerned about the deleterious sanitary and aesthetic effects of public urination is worried about who someone is getting along with in their bedrooms or what and how much they are eating. Fines for public urination could fatten local administrative bodies, and actually allow them to create an army of sanitary inspectors. Imagine the number of jobs that could be created.

Why stop at one kind of effusion? India is a country of spitters. Indeed, urination and expectoration would seem to be more popular national pastimes than cricket and cow protection.

India is also a country of litterers and vandals ( and let’s not get into a not-all-Indians argument here). I am shocked at the damage the Tejas Express suffered on its first ( yes, first) journey. For those who think this happens only on trains let me tell you a story. A small one. A few years ago, on an Indigo flight, I saw the smartly dressed young man seated next to me – he was reading a book by a popular Indian author on a Kindle – dig his nose and then rub his hands and the output of his explorations on the back of the seat in front of him. I yelled at him and got him to clean it up with a tissue. Oh, in addition to being public urinators, Indian men are also nose diggers and crotch scratchers. Do remember to append public as a prefix for these terms too if you want to use them.

Why do we do this?

Sure, when it comes to toilets, India doesn’t have enough, but I am not convinced that has anything to do with it. I’ve seen enough men peeing right next to fully functional (and reasonably clean) public conveniences. When confronted, most of them try to brazen it out. Most aren’t embarrassed. The wife thinks I am mad to engage with them, but I think of it as another version of the Henry Miller Dawn Patrol.

And sure, most public toilets are badly maintained, but, again, whose fault is that?

Education is definitely part of the solution. All schools need to have a module on sanitary education ( sex education can come later). Then, I am told there are many government schools in small towns and villages that do not have toilets.

Everything I’ve listed above is a behavioural problem, not a cultural one. And behaviour can be changed. In its early years Singapore faced similar problems with public spitting and urination – and dealt with them successfully. The question is, can this be done in scale? I do not know the answer.

What I do know is that some of the people who behave badly in India don’t do so elsewhere. They are far from being model travellers when they are abroad. In London escalators, for instance, almost everyone standing still on the left lane of an escalator – the one meant for those who want to keep moving – is an Indian tourist. But they definitely don’t do the things they do with impunity in India – such as throwing an empty chips packet out of the window of a Range Rover Evoque.

This means that people pee and spit wherever they want to, litter freely, and damage public property -- “This MUPI has been vandalised” has become India’s own “ Kilroy was here” – because there are no consequences.

There should be.

I am all for vigilantism when it comes to this.

R Sukumar is editor, Mint

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